|Last week, there was a headline-making Big Science discovery that had people variously amazed, dazed and confused. What on earth is a "Higgs boson," people were asking, and why should I care? The short answer: "The particle is the final piece of the jigsaw in the Standard Model, a theory explaining how the universe is built, and its existence would help scientists gain a better understanding of how galaxies hold together." As Joe Biden might say, that's a big f***ing deal!Anyway, what I heard last week in the discussion of the Higgs boson, aka the "God particle," was largely amazement and confusion. What I did NOT hear were voices of doubt, denial, skepticism, anger, outrage, etc. Zero. Nada. Zip. A wild contrast, in other words, to the skeptical, angry, outraged, tinfoil-hat-conspiracy-theory response we get whenever there's a new discovery, or yet another piece of evidence confirming the theory, or even discussion of the old pieces of evidence (we've now had over 100 years ofquantitative investigation on this subject) regarding climate science. Why the stark contrast? Why, in short, is there no "Higgs boson-gate," just like there was a contrived "climate-gate" controversy that even smart (albeit crazy) people like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli latched onto (note that a federal court recently demolished Cuccinelli on this one, and rightly so)? A few points to ponder:|
First, as John Parnell of the group "Responding to Climate Change" writes, nobody is "raking over the neutrino incident" ("A few months later they confessed they'd just made a simple error, a mistake in a calculation or a fault with a GPS receiver were suggested. They duly corrected it and went about their business.") because particle physics "is a fairly non-politicised topic." But why is that? As a comment on that article notes, in part it's because "most of the public find CERN incomprehensible and irrelevant." In stark contrast, the concept of climate science is extremely simple to understand -- basically, if you can understand what the backyard greenhouse does, or why a thicker blanket keeps in more heat, you've largely got the concept -- so anyone and everyone feels free to discuss and debate it. Very different with Higgs boson, which almost nobody even comes close to truly understanding (chalk me up in that category).
Second, and far more importantly, the big difference between Higgs boson and climate science is that the former doesn't threaten anyone or imply any major changes in our way of life (at least not anytime soon). In stark contrast, climate science threatens all kinds of powerful, wealthy, entrenched interests (think ExxonMobil, OPEC, the Koch brothers, the coal industry, pretty much anyone who produces, transports, processes, or relies on fossil fuels for their business model). In addition, the glaringly obvious implication of climate science is that if it's valid, which clearly it is in scientific terms (if not fully in public opinion), then major changes to the way we power our economy, and our lives, immediately jump out at us. Ultimately, what climate science is telling us if that we have to stop spewing carbon into the atmosphere. That, in turn, implies a rapid ramp-down of the carbon-based fuel industries, particularly the two worst offenders, oil and coal.
Why Is There No "Higgs boson-gate?"
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Posted by Lowell at 5:45 PM